There were plenty of impressive rookies during the first week of the 2014 NFL season. From highly-touted prospects to some lesser-known first-year players, teams got a first-hand view of what their youngsters can do.
We decided to take a look at where some of the top rookie performers stand heading into Week 2. These rankings are based off their regular season debuts and what to expect moving forward this season.
1. Brandin Cooks, Wide Receiver, New Orleans Saints
Cooks accumulated as many targets as fellow Saints’ receiver Marques Colston last week. This tells us a story of a young receiver that has already created a great relationship with quarterback Drew Brees. It’s also an indication that Cooks, who put up seven recception for 77 yards and a score in Week 1, could very well end up earning Offensive Rookie of the Year honors. All said, he was targeted as often, caught more passes and was a bigger factor than his veteran counterpart last week. Don’t expect this to change moving forward, especially in the Saints pass-first offense.
2. Kelvin Benjamin, Wide Receiver, Carolina Panthers
Speaking of rookies who will be asked to do a lot for their teams, Benjamin is already Carolina’s No. 1 receiver after just one NFL game. With Derek Anderson (of all people) under center in Week 1, the rookie first-round pick tallied six receptions for 92 yards and one amazing score. Even with Cam Newton on the sideline, Benjamin proved his worth. With Newton slated to return Week 2, the Florida State product could put up even bigger numbers moving forward.
3. Jason Verrett, Cornerback, San Diego Chargers
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required) Verrett graded out as the second-best cornerback in the NFL last week. His performance against a studly Arizona Cardinals wide receiver group in what was a spectacular debut launches Verrett in the early conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year, honors that no defensive back has earned since Charles Woodson back in 1998. While it’s obviously too early to compare Verrett to any other NFL player, let alone the future Hall of Famer, he’s already looking like a great first-round choice by the Chargers. Overall, Carson Palmer completed just 3-of-7 passes when targeting Verrett last week. That’s pretty amazing.
4. Carlos Hyde, Running Back, San Francisco 49ers
Hyde is absolutely the real deal. San Francisco surprised a bunch of people by selecting him in the second round of the draft this past May, but through the preseason and one week of the regular year, it’s a move that looks like it will pay off over the long term. The Ohio State product tallied 50 yards and a score on seven attempts in his NFL debut. Now that the 49ers have sent LaMichael James packing, there is no one else on the roster to steal carries from Hyde outside of starter Frank Gore, who is being put on a pitch count by the 49ers. In reality, the 15 snaps that Hyde saw last week will likely be a season low. Look for continued success this season before eventually taking over for Gore as the 49ers starting running back down the road.
5. Jerry Attaochu, Linebacker, San Diego Chargers
This rookie from Georgia Tech played sparingly in his first NFL game, but was still able to rack up a sack and a blocked punt against the Arizona Cardinals. Known for his raw pass-rush ability, Attaochu will likely be a one or two down player for the remainder of the season. But this doesn’t mean that he’s not going to be able fill up the stat line. In fact, his raw ability reminds me a great deal of Aldon Smith when he was a rookie with the 49ers back in 2011. Considering that defensive linemen and linebackers get the most play for Defensive Rookie of the Year honors, Attaochu could be an under-the-radar candidate for the award if he continues to make plays in limited action.
6. Derek Carr, Quarterback, Oakland Raiders
Carr is the only rookie that started Week 1. And all things equal, he played pretty darn well. The second-round pick completed 20-of-32 passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns against the New York Jets. While he didn’t push the ball down field too much in this one, it seems that was mainly due to the fact that offensive coordinator Greg Olson drew up a ridiculously conservative game plan. If Olson decides to open up the offense a tad, Carr could potentially continue to put up some solid numbers moving forward this season.
7. Bradley Roby, Cornerback, Denver Broncos
Roby played a huge role in the Broncos Week 1 victory over Indianapolis. While he wasn’t great throughout the entire game, the Ohio State product came through big time when it counted. He broke up an Andrew Luck fourth-down play late in the fourth quarterback, which cemented the Broncos’ victory. Considering this is a team with Super Bowl aspirations, it says a lot about Roby that John Fox and Co. would put him in for nearly 90 percent of Denver’s defensive snaps. Look for continued progression from the cornerback as the season continues.
8. Terrance West, Running Back, Cleveland Browns
There were a ton of so-called experts who concluded that Cleveland overdrafted West in the third round this past May. Those skeptics, who likely never saw him play at the college level, were quieted when he put up 100 yards on 16 attempts against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 1. The 221-pound running back took over primary ball-carrier duties when Ben Tate went down in the game and there really is no reason to believe that he will be giving that role up any time soon. West simply has the look of an every-down running back, even as a rookie. Expect bigger things from him as the season continues.
9. Anthony Barr, Linebacker, Minnesota Vikings
Barr was incredibly impressive in his regular season debut last week. Playing somewhat of a hybrid role as an outside linebacker and down lineman, the UCLA product excelled mainly in run defense and pass coverage in Week 1. This is somewhat surprising considering that he was considered one of the best pure pass rushers entering the 2014 draft. If Barr can continue to play at this level, he will be a three-down backer for the remainder of his career. That’s simply a great complement for someone with one career game under his belt.
10. Dontae Johnson, Cornerback, San Francisco 49ers
Johnson, a fourth-round pick out of North Carolina State, was forced into action Week 1 against the Dallas Cowboys after starters Tramaine Brock and Chris Culliver went down with injuries. He responded by having one heck of a regular season debut, recording two passes defended and allowing completions in only three of the seven passes thrown in his direction. The 49ers indicated on Thursday that Johnson will see an extended role this upcoming weekend, which means he’ll be given an opportunity to prove himself even further. Following an impressive preseason and opening weekend, there is no reason to believe Johnson won’t be up to the task.
Photo: USA Today